Company Town

The business behind the show

« Previous Post | Company Town Home | Next Post »

Negotiations yes -- but not with SAG

November 7, 2008 |  6:39 pm

The studios will return to the bargaining table Monday -- but not with Hollywood's actors.

SagcutInstead, the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers will resume contract negotiations that broke off this spring with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. The contract would cover about 35,000 below-the-line film and TV workers.

IATSE and the studios have set aside three days next week in an effort to wrap up negotiations that were put on hold in April when the studios turned their attention to the Screen Actors Guild. More than six months later, however, the studios still don't have a contract with the actors. A federal mediator has met with each side but so far has not convened a joint meeting to resume formal bargaining. And sources on both sides of the divide have little confidence that the process will yield a breakthrough, moving SAG closer toward a potential strike early next year.

The prospects of a deal with IATSE are much better. There are some tough issues at stake for IATSE President Matt Loeb, who recently took over from longstanding union chief Tom Short. Citing higher health insurance costs, studios are seeking changes in the union's health and pension plan -- considered the most generous in the industry -- that may not go over well with the union's rank and file.

Nonetheless, both sides have plenty of incentive to get a deal done. Like the Directors Guild of America, IATSE is more moderate than SAG and tends to have better relations with the industry. Although IATSE's contract doesn't expire until August, insiders say the union's leaders are eager to conclude an agreement before the economy deteriorates further and weakens their leverage with the studios. Union leaders also want to avoid a walkout after many of their members were hard hit by the 100-day writers strike that ended in February, as well as the uncertainty caused by the SAG negotiations.

For their part, the studios would almost certainly use an agreement -- which would be the sixth one this year with a Hollywood union -- to further isolate SAG. And if SAG pursues a strike authorization vote from members, expect that to be a theme in any campaign the studios wage to sway SAG's 120,000 members.

-- Richard Verrier

Photo: Screen Actors Guild members and supporters hold a rally regarding contract negotiations outside their headquarters in L.A. on June 9. Credit: David McNew / AFP/Getty Images